“Once upon a time…”
These four simple words have been the start of countless stories throughout history. They have transported us outside our everyday lives and into lands far, far away. They have helped connect us to people and places we may have never met or experienced otherwise.
“As much as books are an escape, they can also help you find yourself,” says Anna Nelson, grant writer for Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc. “As you relate to the characters in a book, you learn empathy and gain a new perspective that helps you feel more connected to people around you.”
But aside from romantic fairytales or thrilling mysteries, reading and — more importantly — literacy, has a major effect on a young person’s job, school and life readiness. In fact, a person’s ability to read proficiently by fourth grade is a powerful predictor of high school graduation rates. In addition, illiteracy is linked to higher rates of unemployment, crime and poverty.
With these startling facts in mind, the team at Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc. began to write the pages of their own story on how to address literacy rates in the 16 counties they serve.
“We wanted to develop a program that didn’t just get books into children’s hands, but also inspired a lifelong love for reading,” says Guy Fisher, vice president of mission advancement for Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc. “Every week, Goodwill receives thousands of donated books, many of which never make it on store shelves and instead are recycled. We knew there was something better that could be done with them.”
In the months that followed, the organization’s story continued to evolve as Inspired Reads — a literacy program centered on a mission to create more life-long reader moments — was born. Goodwill volunteers began sorting through the literal tons of books set aside to be recycled and selecting those in good condition. The books were then sanitized and sorted for the appropriate grade levels.
With stacks of books now awaiting a new home, the next big hurdle was how to get them to children. Being married to an elementary school teacher, Guy has seen first-hand the struggles teachers, especially those first starting out, face when trying to build a library for their students.
“We understood the important role teachers play in inspiring kids to read,” Guy says. “By providing an opportunity for teachers to obtain age-appropriate books for their classroom, we are helping them overcome a financial burden and getting books in the hands of students at the same time.”
Over the summer, Inspired Reads hosted its first two giveaway events for local elementary school teachers, handing out more than 400 books. Teachers who were not able to attend still had a chance to build a library their students will love.
The organization plans to continue hosting the giveaway events and has plans to expand to middle and high school teachers. As the program continues to grow, staff are tasked with thinking of new and creative ways to share a love of reading with the Michiana community.
“In addition to our teacher events, we are working to establish a number of lending libraries throughout South Bend, allowing visitors to take a book or leave one behind,” Anna says. “We’ve also partnered with Boling Vision Center for their Kindness to Prevent Blindness eye screening events. While students are getting their eyes checked, we let them choose a book wrapped in paper, which they can open when they get home to discover what’s inside.”
Inspired Reads has also partnered with South Bend Transpo for their Books on Buses campaign, which places roaming libraries on public transportation and allows passengers the opportunity to read a book while they ride or take one home with them.
“Books have the power to change someone’s life,” Guy says. “Our goal in 2020 is to give away 10,000 books, which would be an incredible resource for our community.”


Photography by Evan Cobb